Mar 12, 2010

Book review: Suttree

This apparently semi-autobiographical novel was classic Cormac McCarthy. The writing was ballsy and wordy, but to my ear mostly beautiful. Especially in this day when the faintest breath of wordiness is scorned, McCarthy's expansive style is lovely to read (and even better to hear). It's hard to imagine anyone else pulling that off, though.

The story concerns Cornelius Suttree, a man of apparently wealthy background who, for reasons that remain mysterious, abandons his family and friends to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee river and hang out with a bunch of colorful miscreants. The story, rather like a river itself, meanders all over the place with not much purpose aside from staying close to Suttree.

It's the funniest McCarthy book I've read:
Come in here, Worm, called J-Bone. Get ye a drink of this good whiskey.

Hazelwood entered smiling and took the bottle. He tilted it and sniffed and gave it back.

The last time I drank some of that shit I like to died. I stunk from the inside out. I laid in a tub of hot water all day and climbed out and dried and you could still smell it. I had to burn my clothes. I had the dry heaves, the drizzlin shits, the cold shakes and the jakeleg. I can think about it now and feel bad.

Hell Worm, this is good whusk.

I pass.

Worm’s put down my whiskey, Bud.

I think you better put it down before it puts you down. You’ll find your liver in your sock some morning.
It's violent, but not as brutal as Blood Meridian--it's more poignant and touching.

Like many McCarthy books the mind of the main character is fairly obscure. Throughout much of Suttree I was wondering, "Why in hell is he doing that?" For a character that has made such a profound decision as leaving his wife and kids, that lack of motivation was frustrating. I thought the no-thoughts technique worked better in Blood Meridian, where I got the impression that the protagonist was just bouncing around reacting to things.

Still, these are relatively minor complaints. Tragic and hilarious, this was a superb read, high McCarthy in fine form.

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